Don’t build, baby, build

In the struggle to maintain and preserve the natural and built environments in Asheville, critics of development are often accused of attempting to "stop progress." This implies that all building and development is essentially progressive, which is just plain idiotic. Some projects (Black Dog's plan for a condo on a lot that includes a sliver of parkland next to City Hall comes to mind) are ill-conceived and, if built, would surely diminish life here.

Unfortunately, many of our elected officials, as well as their appointed boards of "experts," seem to feel that all building and development is good, that it always broadens the tax base and increases employment. It does not. In fact, what is likely to happen if thoughtless development continues apace is that Asheville will soon reach a tipping point as urban congestion and suburban sprawl combine to forever end the good old days. We desperately need to elect city and county leaders who will be more balanced in their approach to development and who will ensure that the various boards that examine proposals and projects represent more than the views of those whose mantra is "Build, Baby, Build."

— Michael Carlebach

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10 thoughts on “Don’t build, baby, build

  1. hauntedheadnc

    Asheville’s growth rate is hardly explosive, but I agree that all growth is not good. Urban growth that utilizes good, sturdy architecture that will complement Asheville’s stylish buildings is good. Urban growth that fills in downtown’s misused space is good. Urban growth that provides affordable housing and space for businesses to grow is good. Urban growth that provides dynamic public space is good.

    And urban growth is precisely the sort of growth Asheville won’t allow, because it’s too busy conforming to its transplants’ and NIMBYs’ Mayberry fantasies.

  2. I agree with your first ‘graph, haunted, but I don’t agree with the second.

    Where, exactly, has Asheville blocked urban growth?

  3. hauntedheadnc

    The Haywood Park Towers project, which proposed to finally build a tower proposed 80 years ago, plus an Italianate shopping arcade and an Art Deco shopping arcade, and which would have included both public amenities and a green business incubator, plus contributions toward a fund for affordable housing. If the downtown master plan had not passed, I guarantee you we would never again see an architect or developer put that much effort toward fitting into and enhancing the downtown architecture and community. Not when developers can build some short, squatty abomination like 21 Battery Park or 12 S. Lexington and know it will pass because all is forgiven so long as a building is short.

    The only sin the Haywood Park Towers project committed was its height. As though we haven’t been building tall buildings in Asheville since the 1920’s.

    Frankly, Mr. Bothwell, my only gripe with you is your aversion to height. I personally think that height is great if for no other reason than it allows a builder to put the most people and businesses on the smallest plot of land. I also think that downtown’s wildly clashing styles and juxtaposed heights are most of the reason for its aesthetic appeal.

  4. One major solution: build on the Southside of the Central Business District.

    It would much good for Asheville’s development & growth to retrofit & preserve some of the older architecture & fill in the empty spaces of the abandoned buildings there.

    The Central Business District is top heavy with everyone wanting to build on the Northside, beacause it is already hip & chic. If you build high-rises not on the top of the hill (i.e. North), but rather on the downward slope (i.e. South) the city will have an overall better aesthetic with fewer citizen outcries over viewing proximiety of the already well establish northern areas of downtown.

    The downtown master plan discuss these topics as well. Whether or not these ideas discussed will actually produce a product is still to be determined.

  5. Piffy!

    i’ve always found that peppering one’s comments with inclusive phrases like:[b]because it’s too busy conforming to its transplants’ and NIMBYs’ Mayberry fantasies. [/b] is a great way to create an inclusive, helpful debate.

  6. You got it JBo. As per the main body of the DTMP, places like the south slope are ideal for taller structures. (The appendix to the DTMP is problematic on that score.)

    And Haunted, I am not opposed to height per se. Tall is certainly part of increasing density. My questions about height involve scale and the potential for canyonization. I think the DTMP addresses these pretty well.

    Downtown Charlotte is the kind of place I would hate to see recreated here. It has been converted into concrete canyons where the sky is a stripe overhead.

    We will also need to consider solar exposure at some point, as solar power becomes more common. If a new tall building overshades another, whose sunshine is it, anyway?

    As for Fraga’s plan, my impression after sitting through his presentation was that he was pulling a bait and switch. He touted the beautiful tower that would, as you say, complete a dream launched by Grove 80 years ago. But he wasn’t going to build that building and had no investors willing to do so. He was going to build a BB&T-style condo on the other side of the block. Relatively cheap structure, high dollar views, cash-out quick. Someday another Grove might have come along to build the pretty building in his drawings, but as far as I heard, he never said he would do that.

  7. hauntedheadnc

    Piffy, I think it’s clear that despite the grudging civility we were able to maintain in another discussion, you don’t especially like me and I don’t care. I’m abrasive. It’s a flaw, and one you share too. Welcome to the club — it’s like the Shriners, only more hostile.

    And Cecil, I did not get that impression at all from Tony Fraga, not in instances where I heard him address groups, and not in personal conversation with members of his firm. The impression I got was that his hotel routinely misses out on large bookings and would like to expand, and the hotel tower was a way to honor the city and expand his business at the same time.

    I personally am less afraid of canyonization, which would not have been an issue in that location anyway due to the Grove Arcade across the street, than I am of Asheville’s prediliction toward hacking at its nose to spite its face. God forbid we should have a tall buliding. We’d much rather preserve a parking lot and three short little buildings, none of which are historic and one of which looks like a cat-vomit-colored shoebox.

  8. hauntedheadnc

    Another couple of points, Cecil.

    You mention scale when I’ve said before that Asheville’s lack of scale is part of what makes it appealing. The styles and heights clash all over downtown and that chaos is what makes downtown refreshing.

    Regarding solar rights, I honestly don’t know what to say. I do fear though that if the goal is to make sure that new construction has no effect in any way on any nearby existing structure, then what will actually end up happening is no new construction at all. And for what? To protect parking lots and other underutilized land?

    (Note: That would not be a desirable outcome.)

  9. I agree, Haunted. That’s why I said that figuring out solar rights will be a long project. Other cities are working on it.

    My concern for scale isn’t about keeping all the roofs in line with each other, and the taller buildings do add interest. Location is obviously part of the equation as well. Here are the heights in feet of some of Asheville’s tall buildings
    Flatiron and Public Service 130
    Renaissance 157
    Battery Park 177
    Jackson 215
    BB&T 228
    The BB&T isn’t much taller than the Jackson but the visual effect is far different, and according to most of the people I have discussed it with in almost three decades here, it was Asheville’s biggest planning mistake (perhaps rivaled now by the Ellington).

    The Indigo, at 141 feet, isn’t as tall as its neighbor the Battery Park, but it sticks out like a very sore thumb from every direction, marring the skyline for Montford, Sunset Mt., West Asheville, Southside and other residents (depending, of course, on their taste in skylines). It’s amazing how much more visible it is than its neighbor.

    The Ellington, at 262 feet, will be a monster by comparison to all the others, which one assumes is the intent of those who love to place their erections in downtown places.

    Fraga’s proposed towers would have dwarfed everything around them as well. He pitched the 25 story hotel to be built by “some hotel chain” to mimic Grove’s intended 12 story tower atop the Arcade. Except much taller, of course. And the 21 story condo he was actually proposing to build appeared in its drawings to mimic a cross-breed of 21 Battery Park and BB&T. Although “stories” don’t exactly translate into height, they would have been slightly taller and slightly shorter than the Ellington, respectively.

    Hopefully the DTMP guidelines will help us keep the city looking like Asheville instead of Charlotte or Atlanta. Whomever is on Council as the details are hammered into the UDO will have to pay close attention and seek expert advice.

  10. hauntedheadnc

    Considering that the downtown plan more or less mandates that buildings taper as they rise, and requires decent architecture, I think that we’re on our way to a good guideline for helping Asheville grow into a larger… well, Asheville, and not a Charlotte or an Atlanta.

    You mention the Hotel Indigo and how it sticks out. I’ve been all around town taking pictures in different neighborhoods this year and I can tell you what you already know — there’s another building that really stands out and you can see it from all over the city. It’s the Battery Park Apartments. I’m pretty sure that if the Hotel Indigo didn’t feature such dreary architecture, nobody would mind it. Nobody minds the Battery Park Apartments after all, and why? Because it’s a beautiful building.

    For me it all comes back to architecture. Height is nothing to fear as far as I’m concerned. Bad architecture is what kills us every time, and that’s one of the reasons I’m still pissed off about the Haywood Park Towers plan. Whether or not you believe Fraga truly intended to build it, you have to admit that the hotel tower would have been a delight to behold.

    However, that being said, I have a confession. It makes me feel dirty to say it, but… I like the BB&T Building. Yes, except for its entrance on Pack Square, its every street frontage is a prime exampe of hideous urban design. However, when I was a child growing up in Henderson County, seeing it on the rare occasions my parents brought me to Asheville made me think I was going to the “big city.” Seeing it now just reminds me that I’m home. I love it in all its dull-faced idiot glory. I wouldn’t want to see another one, but that one seems as much a part of the city to me as the Jackson Building. Asheville swirls around it like dancers around a May pole.

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